Maria Russo is the kind of woman that excites the socks off of us here at Green Suitcase Travel. She’s an inspiration and leader at large in the social good movement. She’s co-founder of The Culture-ist, an online magazine featuring stories on conscious travel, social good and holistic wellness and Humanity Unified, a non-profit organization dedicated to poverty alleviation. Rock Star status….achieved.

I reached out to Maria to find out what inspires her to travel and what her advice is for those looking to move through the world in a meaningful way.

 You co-founded The Culture-ist and Humanity Unified. Two very inspiring social justice platforms. What was the catalyst for their creation? 
A love of travel and people. The idea for Humanity Unified came about after years of traveling to produce stories for The Culture-ist. I felt blessed to have been given the opportunity to see the world and felt compelled to give back, serve and empower others who are burdened by poverty.

Humanity Unified’s mission statement is dedicated to educating and empowering vulnerable populations. What are some of the initiatives you are implementing to do this? 

Over the past year, we’ve been working in Rwanda to empower a group of women farmers living in extreme poverty – earning less than $.90 a day (household income) – through health, rights and business education. The project will also provide management skills to the women as they learn how to properly run the cooperative as a team. Good seeds, storage units, and an irrigation system will be purchased to help triple the yields over the next year (beginning July, 2016) so that these women can begin to thrive as farmers and rise above poverty.

Do you have an example of a moment where you saw someone’s life change for the better through HU? 

We are launching our first project in July, so we will begin to see the impact beginning in September 🙂

There’s a fine line with volunteer tourism doing good and creating harm. As I’m sure you are aware, it’s important to look into the organization you are giving to or want to work with. Travelers should examine the kind of impact they are leaving and that the donation money is being properly allocated. What is some advice you would give to someone who wants to give back in this way? 

The best way to give back while traveling is to support local businesses- restaurants, hotels, tour operators, transport, etc. – so that your money is going directly to the local people and their communities. Unless you are committing 6 months to a year at an organization I would skip the voluntourism because it can do more harm than good in most cases.

This series is all about women, making a positive impact in travel. Who are some ladies in your life that have given you the push to live your life in this way? 

I had some amazing female professors in college who inspired me to challenge the status quo. I was always drawn to women who cared more about things like international development, poverty alleviation and equal rights for all.

Picture this, it’s 5 years from now, where do you see HU and the Culture-ist? Sky’s the limit! 

I believe The Culture-ist will continue to be a powerful vehicle for social good and provide inspiration for responsible travel to the masses. Humanity Unified will continue to serve and empower impoverished communities around the globe through our food security projects and our education and entrepreneurship programs.

Credit: Maria Russo

And now for a few of your travel favorites…..

I know it’s hard to choose, but do you have a favorite destination that you’ve been to? 

It’s a tie between Rwanda, Kenya, South Africa and Sri Lanka

What is one of your dream destinations? 

Namibia

Name one thing you can’t travel without. 

A good book

Any closing advice to travelers in general? 

Keep traveling. Keep admiring the world with love, respect and with compassion and keep the people and places you encounter close to your heart. Let this inspiration make you a better person, one that sees the planet for what it is: a gift for all humanity.

Want to learn more about Maria and her work? Visit The Culture-ist or Humanity Unified for more information and to follow them on social media.